Why open source is critical for innovation

Initially, the concept of open-source software was met warily, with apprehension. However, today, 90% of global IT leaders seek open-source software to modernise IT infrastructure as well as for application development and digital transformation, due to its ability to drive fast and cost-effective development. 

Developers use open source to quickly discover what works best for them 

The open software advantage is that developers can take the thousands of building blocks it offers through the multitude of open source solutions available today, and safely experiment with these different solutions to discover what works and does not work for them. This means developers can “fail-fast”, a concept in DevOps and agile, where they are able to work with small increments of code to identify and resolve problems while still in early development, without breaking the bank. With proprietary software however, the IT team might be stuck with using a software that the company has paid a large sum for even though it might not be best suited for their needs, which slows down innovation.

Developers can take advantage of different capabilities without fear of lock-in
To avoid being locked in to specific vendors or platforms, many developers choose not to rely on specific capabilities which are offered in proprietary software, which requires them to write a lot more code than they really need to, and lowers performance and productivity.

Instead, an open source database software like PostgreSQL enables developers to take advantage of features that enable agile development, without being locked in to a vendor, cloud, or cost model. PostgreSQL runs anywhere from the cloud to your laptop, and organisations can choose support from any vendor (or no vendor at all), benefitting from varied database capabilities and enabling them to go to market faster. 

Open source, specifically community driven open source, drives constant innovation

Enterprise open source is popular because it is cost effective and because it fosters the constant innovation made possible by a community of contributors. Some open source projects like PostgreSQL are run by a community of developers from individuals and organisations worldwide, who are motivated not by profits but by adding value to ensure that the software is sustainable. 

Skills needed to leverage open source innovation

While it is evident that open source is the key to driving innovation, the industry lacks specialist talent. In 2020, globally, 93% of hiring managers reported difficulty finding sufficient talent with open source skills, up from 87% in 2018. 

For organisations to develop an appetite and culture for open source, it will entail a fundamental change in mindset. IT professionals that innovate using open source are typically proactive problem solvers who actively seek to build their own solutions using open-source, as opposed to working with existing proprietary solutions. Open source moves differently in an organisation as compared to proprietary software. 

To adapt, organisations need to incorporate specific psychographics into their hiring and training strategies, as open-source projects are not built equally. IT professionals first need to have a good understanding of the underlying structures of open source projects such as who is managing the roadmap and development of projects, and the various open-source licenses governing the use of the software. If an open-source project led by a commercial entity fails, for example, so does the project, affecting the IT teams relying on the project. Ubiquity and democracy are key qualities to look for when selecting open-source software.

IT professionals also need to be active contributors to the open-source project, not only because it is the right thing to do, but it also ensures that the company’s interests are represented and furthered in the open-source community. 

Cultivating talent in open source

To cultivate and interest employees in open source software, enterprises could create a community of practitioners within the organisation that their employees can approach for help and guidance. Previously, a centre of excellence consisted of one or two experts to serve as a resource, yet developers today are independent learners who like to try things on their own. They evangelise, meet up, and create a general awareness of how good an open-source technology is. Companies that encourage collaboration and experimentation in a similar manner, allowing their people to take risks and grow through hackathons and meet-ups, lunch and learn events, can benefit from the cross-share of knowledge and incubate innovation. It is also important to implement development policies that encourage open source development. These policies should be supported with secure technology such as IP and vulnerability scanning to permit secure development and integration with products.

Navigate the shortage in open-source skills

Companies can select open-source projects that make use of familiar systems that require little reskilling and training. For instance, PostgreSQL is compatible with Oracle, a popular legacy database technology used by several enterprises. 

As the cost of training a workforce in open source will take time and money, companies can also rely on commercial vendors of the open-source software. While it is easy to develop on free open source software, a commercial vendor can ensure that project targets are successfully managed, and resolve issues when things go wrong, especially when the organisation is inexperienced with the software.